Relief From Stress—A Practical Remedy
“Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you.”—MATTHEW 11:28.
1, 2. (a) What does the Bible contain that helps alleviate excess stress? (b) How effective were the teachings of Jesus?
YOU would probably agree that too much stress is bad; it amounts to distress. The Bible points out that all human creation is so weighed down with burdens that many anxiously await release from today’s stressful life. (Romans 8:20-22) But the Scriptures also show how we can gain considerable relief from distress right now. That comes from following the advice and example of a young man who lived 20 centuries ago. He was a carpenter, yet his greater love was for people. He spoke to people’s hearts, addressed their needs, helping the weak and consoling the depressed. Even more, he assisted many to reach their spiritual potential. They thus found relief from excess stress, even as you can.—Luke 4:16-21; 19:47, 48; John 7:46.
2 This man, Jesus of Nazareth, was not guided by the sophisticated learning that some sought in ancient Rome, Athens, or Alexandria. Still, his teachings are renowned. They had a theme: the government by which God will successfully rule our earth. Jesus also explained basic principles for living—principles that are truly valuable today. Those who learn and apply what Jesus taught enjoy immediate benefits, including relief from excess stress. Would you not enjoy that?
3. What grand invitation did Jesus extend?
3 You may have doubts. ‘Can someone who lived so long ago be meaningful in my life now?’ Well, listen to Jesus’ inviting words: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) What did he mean? Let us examine these words in some detail and see how they open the way to relief from oppressive stress.
4. To whom did Jesus speak, and why might his listeners have found it hard to do what was asked of them?
4 Jesus spoke to many who were desperately trying to do what was lawful but who were “loaded down” because the Jewish leaders made religion a burdensome thing. (Matthew 23:4) They focused on endless rules for virtually all aspects of life. Would you not find it stressful to keep hearing “you must not” do this or that? In contrast, Jesus’ invitation was to truth, to righteousness, to a better life by listening to him. Yes, the way to know the true God involved paying attention to Jesus Christ, for in him, humans could—and can—see what Jehovah is like. Jesus said: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.”—John 14:9.
Is Your Life Too Stressful?
5, 6. How do working conditions and wages of Jesus’ day compare with ours today?
5 This matter may be of concern to you because your job or family situation may weigh heavily upon you. Or other responsibilities may seem overwhelming. If so, you are like the sincere ones Jesus met and helped. For example, consider the problem of earning a living. Many struggle with that today, and so did many in Jesus’ time.
6 Back then, a laborer toiled 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, usually for just one denarius for the whole day. (Matthew 20:2-10) How does that compare with your wages or those of your friends? It can be challenging to compare ancient wages with those of modern times. One way is to consider purchasing power, what money can buy. One scholar says that in Jesus’ day a loaf of bread made with four cups of wheat flour cost about one hour’s pay. Another scholar says that a cup of good wine cost about two hour’s pay. You can see from such details that people at that time toiled long and hard to keep living. They needed relief and refreshment, as we do. If you are employed, you may feel pressured to produce more. Often we do not find time to make well-thought-out decisions. You may admit that you long for relief.
7. What was the reaction to Jesus’ message?
7 Clearly, Jesus’ invitation to all who were “toiling and loaded down” would have been most appealing to many listeners back then. (Matthew 4:25; Mark 3:7, 8) And recall that Jesus added the promise, “I will refresh you.” That same promise is in effect today. It can apply to us if we are “toiling and loaded down.” And it can apply to our loved ones, whose situation is likely similar.
8. How do child-rearing and old age add to stress?
8 There are other things weighing on people. Raising children is a major challenge. Even being a child can be challenging. An increasing number of individuals of all ages confront mental and physical health problems. And while people may live longer, the elderly have special issues to contend with, despite advances in medicine.—Ecclesiastes 12:1.
Under the Yoke
9, 10. In ancient times, of what was the yoke a symbol, and why did Jesus invite people to take his yoke upon them?
9 Did you note that in the words quoted from Matthew 11:28, 29, Jesus said: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” Back then, a common man might have felt as though he were working under a yoke. From ancient times, the yoke had been illustrative of slavery or servitude. (Genesis 27:40; Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 28:48) Many of the day laborers whom Jesus met worked with an actual yoke on their shoulders, carrying heavy burdens. Depending on how a yoke was fashioned, it could be easy on the neck and shoulders or it could chafe. As a carpenter, Jesus may have made yokes, and he would have known how to shape one that was “kindly.” Perhaps he lined the contact points with leather or cloth to make the yoke as comfortable as possible.
10 When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you,” he could have been likening himself to one who provided well-made yokes that would be “kindly” to a workman’s neck and shoulders. Thus, Jesus added: “My load is light.” This signified that the yoke bar was not unpleasant to use, and the work was not slavish either. Granted, by inviting his listeners to accept his yoke, Jesus was not offering immediate relief from all oppressive conditions then current. Still, the change of viewpoint he presented would bring considerable refreshment. Adjustments in their life-style and way of doing things would relieve them too. More to the point, a clear and solid hope would help them find life less stressful.
Refreshment Can Be Yours
11. Why was Jesus not simply suggesting a trading of yokes?
11 Please note, Jesus was not saying that people would trade one yoke for another. Rome would still be in control of the land, just as today’s governments are in control where Christians live. First-century Roman taxation would not go away. Health and economic problems would remain. Imperfection and sin would continue to affect people. Still, refreshment could be theirs by adopting Jesus’ teaching, as it can be ours today.
12, 13. What did Jesus highlight that would bring refreshment, and how did some respond?
12 A key application of Jesus’ illustration of the yoke became apparent regarding the disciple-making work. There is no doubt that Jesus’ main activity was that of teaching others, with the emphasis being on God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 4:23) So when he said, “Take my yoke upon you,” that would certainly have involved following after him in that same activity. The Gospel record shows that Jesus moved sincere men to change their occupation, a major concern in the life of many. Remember his call to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come after me, and I shall cause you to become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-20) He demonstrated to those fishermen how satisfying it would be if they did the work that he was putting first in his life, doing so under his guidance and with his help.
13 Some of his Jewish hearers got the point and applied it. Picture the seaside scene that we read about at Luke 5:1-11. Four fishermen had toiled all night but had caught nothing. Suddenly, their nets were filled! This was not by chance; it resulted from Jesus’ intervention. As they looked toward shore, they saw a multitude of people keenly interested in Jesus’ teachings. That helped to explain what Jesus told those four: “From now on you will be catching men alive.” What was their response? “They brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.”
14. (a) How can we find refreshment today? (b) What refreshing good news was proclaimed by Jesus?
14 Basically, you can respond in a similar way. The work of teaching people Bible truth is still going on. About six million of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide have accepted Jesus’ invitation to “take [his] yoke upon” them; they have become “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Some make it their full-time occupation; others do as much as they can part-time. All find it refreshing, so their life becomes less stressful. It involves doing what they enjoy, telling others good news—“the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23) It is always a pleasure to talk about good news but especially this good news. The Bible contains the primary material we need to convince many that they can lead a less stressful life.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
15. How can you benefit from Jesus’ teachings about life?
15 To some extent, even people who have just started to learn about God’s Kingdom have benefited from Jesus’ teachings about how to live. Many can truthfully say that Jesus’ teachings have refreshed them and helped them to turn their lives around. You can establish that for yourself by examining some of the principles of living set out in the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, particularly the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
A Way to Refreshment
16, 17. (a) Where can you find some of Jesus’ key teachings? (b) What is needed in order to find refreshment through application of Jesus’ teachings?
16 In the spring of 31 C.E., Jesus gave a lecture that is world-renowned to this day. It is usually called the Sermon on the Mount. It is recorded in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 and Luke chapter 6, and it summarizes many of his teachings. You can find other teachings of Jesus elsewhere in the Gospels. Much of what he said is self-explanatory, though putting it into practice can be challenging. Why not read those chapters carefully, thoughtfully? Let the power of his ideas influence your thinking and attitude.
17 Obviously, Jesus’ teachings can be arranged in different ways. Let us group key teachings so that there is one for each day of the month, with the goal of putting them to work in your life. How? Well, do not pass over them too quickly. Recall the rich ruler who asked Jesus Christ: “By doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” When Jesus reviewed vital requirements of God’s Law, the man responded that he was already meeting these. Still, he realized that he needed to do more. Jesus called upon him to put forth greater effort to apply godly principles in practical ways, to be an active disciple. Apparently, the man was not ready to go that far. (Luke 18:18-23) Hence, one who wants to learn Jesus’ teachings today needs to remember that there is a difference between agreeing with them and actively embracing them, thus reducing stress.
18. Illustrate how you can use the accompanying box beneficially.
18 As a start to examining and applying Jesus’ teachings, look at point 1 in the accompanying box. It refers to Matthew 5:3-9. Frankly, any of us could spend quite a while meditating on the wonderful counsel presented in those verses. Looking at them as a whole, though, what do you conclude about attitude? If you truly want to overcome the effect of too much stress in your life, what is going to help? How can you be affected for the better if you increase your attention to spiritual matters, letting such occupy more of your thoughts? Is there some concern in your life that you need to attach less importance to, allowing for greater attention to spiritual issues? If you do so, it will add to your happiness now.
19. What can you do to gain additional insight and understanding?
19 Now take the matter a step further. Why not discuss those verses with another servant of God, perhaps your marriage mate, a close relative, or a friend? (Proverbs 18:24; 20:5) Bear in mind that the rich ruler asked someone else—Jesus—about a related matter. The response could have increased his prospect of happiness and lasting life. The fellow worshiper with whom you discuss those verses will not be equal to Jesus; still, the conversation about Jesus’ teachings will benefit both of you. Try to do it very soon.
20, 21. What program can you follow to learn about Jesus’ teachings, and how can you assess your progress?
20 Look again at the accompanying box, “Teachings to Help You.” These teachings are grouped so that you have at least one teaching a day to consider. You can first read what Jesus had to say in the verses cited. Then think about his words. Ponder how you can apply them in your life. If you feel that you are already doing so, ponder to see what more you can do to live by that divine teaching. Work with it during that day. If you have to struggle to understand it or to see how you can apply it, spend another day on it. Bear in mind, however, that you do not have to master it before you move on. The next day, you can consider another teaching. At the end of a week, you can review how successful you have been in adopting four or five of Jesus’ teachings. The second week add more, day by day. If you find that you have slipped in applying some teaching, do not get discouraged. Every Christian will have that experience. (2 Chronicles 6:36; Psalm 130:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; James 3:8) Follow through on the third week and the fourth.
21 After a month or so, you may have covered all 31 points. In any case, how will you feel as a result? Will you not be somewhat happier, perhaps more relaxed? Even if you make only a little improvement, you will likely feel less stress, or at least you will be handling stress better, and you will have a method for continuing. Do not forget that there are many other fine points of Jesus’ teachings that are not on the list. Why not search for some of them and try putting them into practice?—Philippians 3:16.
22. What may result from following Jesus’ teachings, but what additional aspect merits study?
22 You can see that Jesus’ yoke, while not weightless, is truly kindly. The load of his teachings and of discipleship is light. After more than 60 years of personal experience, the apostle John, Jesus’ dear friend, concurred: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) You can be just as confident. The longer you apply Jesus’ teachings, the more you will find that what makes life very stressful for many today will not be as distressing to you. You will see that you have found considerable relief. (Psalm 34:8) Yet, there is another aspect to Jesus’ kindly yoke that you need to consider. Jesus also mentioned his being “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” How does that fit into our learning from and imitating Jesus? In the following article, we will consider this.—Matthew 11:29.
What Is Your Reply?
• Why should we look to Jesus when we seek relief from too much stress?
• Of what was a yoke a symbol, and why?
• Why did Jesus invite people to take on his yoke?
• How can spiritual refreshment be yours?
[Blurb on page 14]
The yeartext for Jehovah’s Witnesses during 2002 will be: “Come to me, . . . and I will refresh you.”—Matthew 11:28.
[Box/Picture on page 12, 13]
Teachings to Help You
What good things can you find in Matthew chapters 5 through 7? These chapters contain teachings presented on a Galilean hillside by the Master Teacher, Jesus. Please read the verses cited below, using your own copy of the Bible, and ask yourself the related questions.
1. 5:3-9 What does this tell me about my general attitude? How may I work toward greater happiness? How can I give more attention to my spiritual needs?
3. 5:27-30 What do Jesus’ words underscore as to romantic fantasizing? How will my avoiding such contribute to my happiness and peace of mind?
4. 5:38-42 Why should I strive to avoid the emphasis modern society puts on being too assertive?
5. 5:43-48 How will I benefit from being better acquainted with associates whom I might have considered to be enemies? What will this likely do to reduce or eliminate tension?
6. 6:14, 15 If I sometimes tend to be unforgiving, might envy or resentment be the basic cause? How can I change that?
7. 6:16-18 Am I inclined to be more concerned with appearances than with who I am on the inside? Of what should I be more aware?
8. 6:19-32 What could be the effect if I become overly concerned with money and possessions? Thinking about what will help me to keep balanced in this regard?
9. 7:1-5 How do I feel when I am around people who are judgmental and critical, always finding fault? Why is it important for me to avoid being like that?
11. 7:12 Though I know the Golden Rule, how often do I apply this counsel in dealing with others?
Additional teachings that I can consider:
13. 8:2, 3 How can I reflect compassion for the disadvantaged, as Jesus so often did?
14. 9:9-38 What part does showing mercy have in my life, and how can I show it more?
15. 12:19 Learning from the prophecy about Jesus, do I strive to avoid contentious arguments?
16. 12:20, 21 What good can I do by not crushing others by either my words or my actions?
18. 15:4-6 From Jesus’ comments, what do I see about loving care of the elderly?
19. 19:13-15 What do I need to take time to do?
20. 20:25-28 Why is it unprofitable to wield authority for its own sake? How can I imitate Jesus in this regard?
Additional thoughts, recorded by Mark:
21. 4:24, 25 What is the significance of how I treat others?
22. 9:50 If what I say and do is in good taste, what good results will likely come?
Finally, a few teachings recorded by Luke:
24. 9:1-6 Though Jesus had the power to heal the sick, what did he put before that?
25. 9:52-56 Am I quick to take offense? Do I avoid the spirit of retaliation?
26. 9:62 How should I view my responsibility to speak about God’s Kingdom?
27. 10:29-37 How can I prove that I am a neighbor, not a stranger?
28. 11:33-36 What changes might I make so that my life can become simpler?
29. 12:15 What is the relationship between life and possessions?
30. 14:28-30 If I take the time to weigh decisions carefully, what might I avoid, and with what benefit?
31. 16:10-12 What benefits may I get from a life of integrity?
[Pictures on page 10]
The lifesaving work under Jesus’ yoke is refreshing